What I’ve learned so far

I’ve started to get a bit reflective about coaching youth soccer. Part of that is definitely due to the fact that I’ve coached my daughter from day one at U6 and her team is now in their final season at U18. That has been a great experience as both a dad and a coach. I realized a while ago that the best way to leverage my experience as a coach is to help other coaches as that assistance is then passed on to all the players they work with. At some point in running this blog, specifically when the whole HPL thing was kicking off and parents were desperately looking for information, I also realized that parents of motivated players are really not given that much information to navigate their way through the landscape and be in a position to discuss options and opportunities with their kids. I’ve tried to address some of that within VUFC, the club I work for, but I think there’s room to throw some random bits of accrued knowledge out there here as well. So…

Your kid is not going to play for Barcelona. Neither is mine • Your kids’ happiness is far more important than the level of play they play at • If you identify the ten best U9 players at your club, chances are that only half of them will be among the top ten at U11/12. Same goes for the best at U11/12, expect about half of them to still be in the top ten at U14 • Most people, youth coaches included, really don’t fully understand offside • BCSA is trying and is a better organization than it was in the past • We are being totally negligent with girls development by not insisting they are properly schooled in basic techniques related to controlling the ball and striking the ball  Girls are underestimating how much time they need to commit to working with a ball outside of structured soccer if they truly want to master the skills that will help them enjoy the game • I have yet to see a good argument for why a regular soccer season should cost over $2000 per season  No kid knows what a realistic goal is for them in terms of soccer when they are 10 years old. Unfortunately, most parents don’t either • You, as a parent, are fully entitled to ask a lot of questions about the quality of the coaching your child will receive when you are considering elite levels of play. To do that, you need to understand what makes a good coach, what is age and level appropriate training and that running teams is not about providing instant gratification to players and parents (ie. winning most of your games at early ages)  There are only two elite levels of play for youth soccer in Vancouver right now: Whitecaps Prospects and BCPL • Parents should not be coaching their kids’ teams at elite levels of play • Anyone trying to convince you that Metro soccer is an elite level of play is selling something • Kids who intently watch games on TV, good quality games, benefit from it • Coaches who take a bronze team through all the way to U18 deserve a medal. Honestly. Parents on those teams should be going out of their way to give heartfelt thanks to those coaches  • If you have an end goal for your child when you start divisional soccer that is anything other than ensuring they are enjoying the game and in a positive environment that facilitates their development, drop that goal and go with the one I just mentioned • Besides playing for Canada the soccer memories I cherish most are the trips I’ve been on with teams • If you’re a parent coach of a team that trains once a week: get five bullet-proof training sessions that work for your team. Run them 3 or 4 times per season and sprinkle in small-sided games nights. It helps the players and it helps you as a coach • Once a year, in January or February, when the weather is particularly shitty at one of your training sessions, cancel practice once you get there, walk over to a Starbucks with them and buy the players who came out despite the weather a hot chocolate and have some laughs • Take pictures of your team at practices and games. You’ll be glad you did when it’s all over • It is far better to be the stronger player at a lower level of play than the overwhelmed, last picked player at a higher level no matter how much nicer the tracksuits are • Reasons kids quit soccer when they’re in House league: bad weather, adults forming teams that set up them to lose all their games while other teams win all theirs, coaches that don’t engage them, parents that don’t actively support their participation •Reason kids quit soccer when they’re older: coaches that betray the trust players need, playing on teams at levels they shouldn’t be playing at, parents living vicariously through their kids soccer • Most of my good friends today are people that I played soccer with over 25 years ago  What Barcelona have shown more than anything else is that technical excellence doesn’t just mitigate physical superiority in terms of height, strength and even speed, it obliterates it • At U14 and above, winning is important. It builds confidence and engagement. Teaching kids to win graciously is more important though and having them experience losing is a great tool to facilitate that • Kids don’t need boots that cost over $200. No boot makes you a better player. Comfort, a suitable stud type for the surface you’ll be using and a snug fit are what really matter. Use the FIFA 11+ warm up, especially if you’re working with teenage girls • Asking players questions while they’re training is a much more effective development tool than yelling instructions at them in games • There is no one development pathway that is perfect or even suitable for all players but the right coach at the right time can really do a ton of good for your kid • I’ve been coaching 16 years. I always bring a written plan for my practices. I never wing it • I’ve never seen a player’s future limited by not playing up a year • I’ve seen many players not enjoy playing up a year • I don’t pick captains for my teams. They’re kids. They don’t need artificial divisions that segregate them. Runs contrary to team-building and seeing their peers as equals • My U18 girls team has won their league 3 of last 4 years and is currently in first place. I’ve never run a fitness session with them. Not once. Totally unnecessary and a waste of precious training time • The more you coach or watch your kid play, the more opinionated you are likely to become. Try to guard against that. Writing about coaching is maybe not the best antidote for that…

I encourage you to add what you have learned so far in the comments.

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34 Responses to What I’ve learned so far

  1. Very good piece Gregor. Don’t 100% agree with all, but most of the points are very true.

  2. Colin Elmes says:

    I guess I fall outside the 25 year friend mark. One less friend now in a limited pool of them 😦

    Good job here, in the format of everything I needed to learn I learned in kindergarten……

  3. Fred Cutler says:

    Bitter 1st round Cup loss in PKs on Saturday with U14s, against a team that came through the back at least 50 times in the game with 3 fouls called. Gregor’s wisdom here is right on — makes dealing with the disappointment and the players’ disappointment much easier.

    • Gregor says:

      I played five years at UBC and was part of three CIAU titles while there. We lost three games in those five years and I remember the details of the three losses very clearly a quarter century later. Losing is formative and I guess that’s both good and bad.

  4. David Norman says:

    Good points, and after coaching kids (mostly 9 – 14 age groups) for 21 years, agree with most of them.

    • Gregor says:

      Thanks Dave.
      Relevant (to me anyways) that Dave has a son who is currently in Whitecaps Prospects program and he knows the elite side of youth soccer inside out.

  5. daffydyl says:

    Let me clarify: not so much disagree with but I think there are other factors not noted. In why kids leave house programs or any sport before 13, a big reason is physical literacy issues. Kids feel awkward and lesser than their peers, so its easier to quit for some. As far as the winning at U14, its fairly important but not the most important thing. Just little things to add. My nature simply won’t allow me to 100% agree with anything 😉 Great job!

    • Gregor says:

      It’s definitely far from a complete list. The more I do physical literacy exercises with younger players the more I see the need to do more. Winning at U14 is just that: ‘fairly important’, nothing more.

  6. Good stuff, thanks Griller for tweeting about this one.

  7. Great points Gregor and I think there are a few more that I can add from experience:
    – youth soccer is a great game without the abundance of parental influence, is getting worse and needs to change
    – never think that coaching girls and boys is the same
    – respect the volunteers and staff in your organization and know what they do
    – I agree with your comments on fitness but some coaches just don’t know about fitness with the ball and game-type play and I think this is an important aspect of coaching (i.e., way too much static play at training)

  8. Paul Walker says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed the read Gregor. Thoughtful and truthful anecdotes on many years of experience. Cheers !!

  9. Neil W. Humphrey says:

    Gregor some great points and interesting presentation too.

    Gayle has an interesting one “youth soccer is a great game without the abundance of parental influence, is getting worse and needs to change” Good reason why parents should be on the other side of the field away from the teams. I still remember the day when my U15 girls team game had a parent from the other team go face to face with the CR on the field during the game. One of the many reasons why Coastal Girls try to use the tech area.

    Fitness is something I mandate as it’s important to teach the importance of healthy lifestyles and injury prevention. It doesn’t mean not using the ball but it does mean assessing, improving and caring for player fitness for personal and game use. Far too many kids show up in the summer unfit and expect to play highly competitive games against teams that may of trained and played year round. This is compounded by having to play on various pitch surfaces that can be injury prone due to poor maintenance and not being flat. Yep, I prefer AT’s as they are always flat and have the best drainage.

    There are many football fitness programs out there whether they are for pre-hab, fitness, re-hab and assessing they all have their place. My favorite for females is the PEP Program which was designed for the USWNT and to address the high ratio of ACL injuries with females. Sports Fitness has it’s place and if it didn’t we would not see it be such an important part of sports and caring for athletes..

  10. Linda says:

    Great Points Gregor, the best is about coaching through raising questions as opposed to barking directions. We want thinking players, not reactive ones constantly needing direction. Parents should be encouraged to give reflective comments, “great run!” or “nice pass”. Too many voices on the field is confusing. Let them play I say! . What do you advise about inspiring “belief”? I see many kids held back by lack of confidence in their ability, even when it is there inside them.

    • Gregor says:

      re: inspiring belief. I think you’re much more capable of inspiring belief in kids then they really trust that what you’re saying is how you feel. Once they get to divisional soccer I really try to talk straight to them. I don’t patronize them with over the top compliments in a suger coated voice. I tell them when they do things well and I explain to them, quietly and calmly, when they need to correct something. They then come to realize that the ‘good’ comments can be trusted and they can draw ‘belief’ from those because they know they’ll also hear when they need to make an improvement.

      I really believe most kids pick up on what is a genuine statement quite early and not something that’s said to either pacify, coddle, or deliberately annoy them. Tell them the truth and they will draw self belief from the knowledge that they can trust what is being said to be an accurate representation of how you feel and how they are doing.

      • Linda says:

        My 8 year old told me…….Messi says “if you believe, you can achieve”!
        Those types of messages from icons are great.
        I agree and have found the quiet one on one convo can be effective with the kids who really struggle with confidence. All kids need to hear positive feedback now and again. I think as coaches we often get caught up on what is not working. A team can feel the success but it is useful I think to point to where the goal was generated, or where defensive concentration really paid off. Deserved praise is what I think you are pointing too. Maybe too often the encouragement we use to engage them in the early stages needs to get more sophisticated as we deal with older players. Thanks for your comments. Appreciated.

  11. DJones says:

    Love this quote:

    What Barcelona have shown more than anything else is that technical excellence doesn’t just mitigate physical superiority in terms of height, strength and even speed, it obliterates it!”

    As others have said, agree with most (especially the one about bronze level coaches deserving medals!).

  12. djlarkins says:

    With all of this kind and gentle praise I could not bring myself to a simple note for Gregor saying “well done, agree with most, feel the same …” and, therefore, herein the cynic’s response to your thoughtful reflection (without the lovely formatting, it seems):

    You did not hear me, I did not specify Barcelona – who cares about anyone else’s kid • My happiness is more important than my kids’ and since I never played soccer or, if I did, I was great – what level of play my kid plays at is therefore important to me • You are wrong, my kid WAS the best U9 player at my club, IS the best or at least is at the top of the top ten at U11/12 and who _____ cares what the local soccer community thinks of my kid at U14 since he/she will already be in Barcelona • I actually DO UNDERSTAND offside – problem is that no one else does – and it makes me sick that it is always wrongly called against my kid’s team and for the opposing team • BCSA doing better? – I don’t care, I intend to complain in perpetuity about my club, district, local, provincial, national and world governing bodies without ever putting in a substantive effort to change things for the better • [not going to comment on girls soccer – three sons and never coached a girls team – although the cynic would likely say you must be referring to your daughter, since mine is an elite player] • I will pay and do anything to ensure I find a coach, team or club that agrees with my assessment of my kid’s current or impending greatness • I actually do have realistic expectations and, while my kid may not be inclined to go out and kick about on his/her own or with friends, I am convinced he/she is the next Messi, I will drive him/her to and pay for any club that agrees my kid is the next Messi and I am fine with eliminating anything in my family’s or kid’s life that could possibly interfere with my kid becoming the next Messi – nothing wrong with that • A good coach is easy to pick-out; he or she makes sure all the best players are on, and stay on, my kid’s team; wins all of their games by huge margins; obviously knows everything about the game because he or she yells instructions to every kid every second during games; tells the kids (other than my kid) that they are worthless and weak and spends more time on conditioning than ball handling since the problem is, really, that they are just not physical enough; and uses drills and practice plans ripped-off from adult professional teams for any age because – hey – seems to work for them. If I do not get a good coach he or she will know it, because I am going to let all of the parents on the team know exactly how I think without discussing my concerns with that coach and, if things do not change, I will just get the coach removed • phffff! – there are only four elite players in all of youth soccer in Vancouver right now – and my kid is one of them • Only coaches who recognize my kids talents should be coaching at elite levels of play • Metro soccer is an elite level of play because I pay more for it and it is the gateway to BCPL which my kid missed because [insert reason here] • We watch hockey, which I tell my kid is a lot like soccer because, well, it has two goals at each end – that’s all my kid really needs to understand • Bronze! … phfff! Useless hangers-on who take good field space and times – why else would they label a division of youth soccer with a word most think synonymous with losing while labeling my kid’s level as elite – silver is not much better • My end goal is to have my kid play professionally or at least have soccer pay for his or her university – I am very goal oriented, I buy lottery tickets to be sure I personally satisfy my goal of retiring rich! • My best memory is going to be going to Barcelona to see my kid play • If you’re a parent coach of a team do me a favour, get these kid’s in great physical condition by running them all the time and steal a practice plan from adult professional teams for use at any age because – hey – seems to work for them • Once a year, in January or February, when the weather is particularly shitty at one of your training sessions, do a conditioning session which requires them to sit and role on the ground and generally makes and keeps them cold and miserable – it toughens them up and makes them play more physical • Don’t bother taking pictures of your team at practices and games – I video tape all of them so that I can send a DVD of my kid to Barcelona • It is far better to be the stronger player at the highest level so I am going to make sure that is my kid – and I am going to tell everyone I know how much nicer the tracksuits are at the higher level when my kid gets there • Reasons kids quit soccer when they’re in House league: my kid skins them, not physical enough, who cares – won’t be my kid •Reason kids quit soccer when they’re older: my kid skins them, not physical enough, who cares – won’t be my kid • Most of my good friends today are people that will facilitate my kid’s soccer development and rise to elite levels • What Barcelona have shown more than anything else is that kids who people say will not be professional footballers go on to play at Barcelona • Winning is the most important thing. I tell my kid to be gracious when his/her team wins although I am not sure what gracious means and really don’t enforce that anyway. Losing is for tools • I will spend anything, period, on soccer for my kid. My kid needs boots made for better players. Use the warm up you saw on TV last week during Champions League, don’t worry if it gets in the way of the game beside you or if it leaves no time for the kids to touch a ball before the game begins • Yelling instructions at players during games is a much more efficient development tool than everything else since it means you really do not have to develop anything except how to listen to adults – which all kids do so well and will do through-out their teenage years – and don’t worry that your field size is about to change from somewhere around 30 x 58 yards to somewhere around 60+ by 100+ yards since if you yell loud enough they will hear you • Whatever development pathway that is offered or mandated is the perfect pathway for my kid with the right coach for my kid – regardless of the financial, social or family cost. It is a means to an end • I was an ex-Canadian Olympic men’s single luge competitor and once coached little league baseball and am therefore a better role model for athletics than everyone else and a qualified youth soccer coach – so I can wing it • My kid’s future was limited by my club’s TD’s decision not to allow him to play up a year so I am going to a different club • My kid enjoys being a substitute and not scoring many goals while playing up a year – he/she is so much better off than his/her friends still playing, you know, with everyone else • I pick my kid as captain every week. I wish there were more ways to artificially divide and segregate kids so that my kid’s future would not be limited by this “team-building” and “peers as equals” rubbish • My U7 boys/girls team has won their last seven games by at least six goals. They are so good technically that all I do now is run fitness sessions with them to make them bigger and more physical. • I am not opinionated, I am right. I know I am right because I know this guy who agrees with me and his kid plays BCPL. That is what is important to me and why I coach. Who cares about everything and anyone else.

    Two things. First, my greatest respect for all Bronze coaches, many of whom I consider friends, who in many ways show the greatest devotion to the game and community of all – under the not always easiest circumstances. Second, nothing above (I hope) reflects the views or actions of the writer so please take it for what it is – sarcasm.

  13. Gregor says:

    I don’t pick captains but I do pick Comment of the Month and we have a winner! That’s pretty awesome.

    Lotsa favourites in there but…”I will pay and do anything to ensure I find a coach, team or club that agrees with my assessment of my kid’s current or impending greatness” ….BOOOOM!!!

    • Colin Elmes says:

      Holy shit, that was awesome Jeff! The sad part is that far too much of that has actually been said by parents over the years. And yes comment of the month.

  14. Joel Hunt says:

    As I read this great write, as I don’t know the sound of your voice Gregor…I can’t help but hear it in my mind narrated by the guy who did “…and trust me on the sunscreen”. ; )

    Great thoughts Gregor, I will do my best as a passionate soccer dad to keep them in mind as I admit I can certainly identify with many of your points.

  15. Oz Gooner says:

    Having your daughters friends tell her years later that you were the best coach they ever had, #P.M.Wildcats mid 2,000’s.

  16. Peter Schaad says:

    I’d like to add one: Players who achieved a reasonable level of success don’t necessarily make successful (or even good) coaches.

  17. Doc says:

    Stumbled across this looking for some coaching ideas after recently completing Soccer for Life.

    This should be part of the curriculum.

    Your dad Alan was ahead of his time years ago at Burdett


    • Gregor says:

      Good to hear from you Mark and glad to see you’re coaching. It took me awhile to see but, yeah, he really was ahead of his time back at Burdett.

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